Implementing the right technology to manage your business can be daunting. Twenty years ago, the basic requirements were a clip board, paper time sheets, a file cabinet, phone book, and if you were savvy- the latest version of Microsoft Office. Today, running your field service business may seem a lot more involved as a variety of cloud-based software solutions are being used to manage many the necessary functions. When implemented and used effectively, these solutions provide a platform for success and allow your business to grow efficiently and provide necessary data and detailed insight on how your business is performing.
Don’t get me wrong, many of these applications provide a platform for work-free weekends and access to reports in real-time… but before I dive into some of those, I should also mention- just because some cool timekeeping or scheduling app is hot on the market doesn’t mean it’s right for your business. In a world filled with buzzwords and innovation, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious. What I mean is, be careful when signing up for a monthly service for single-solution apps before mapping out exactly what you’re company is after. Otherwise, you’ll quickly find yourself being nickel and dimed for thirteen different applications that don’t sync with each other or make much sense for your company.
The good news: You have several options.
The bad news: You have several options.
Here are 5 steps for prioritizing your tech strategy:
Step 1. List the problems you’re trying to solve.
What existing systems are currently working? What needs improving? Has your business outgrown the current applications? If so, should you upgrade NOW to a more scalable model? Are your people using it effectively (even at all)?
Or are you like many of us and don’t know where to begin…still trying to fathom how your clip board, paper time sheets, and sticky notes physically squeeze into your ipad?
Quick Tip- Start with the Sales Process. From the first time the lead comes in; to estimating; to scheduling; to project managing; to time keeping/payroll; to accounting. List any and all issues in each of those categories. If you don’t have anything implemented in a specific area, write down what you’re looking for or trying to solve. Ask yourself, how might technology help improve these functions?
Step 2. Identify the key features YOU need.
The following features are relative to the home service industry:
Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Estimating, Scheduling, Time Keeping and Payroll, Project/Task/Document Management, Job Costing, and Accounting.
If you’re like me, you’re saying, “Yes please! All of those..I need them ALL!” That leads us to the follow-up question; How do you go about finding the right application for each of them? Then, since they’re all connected, how do you get them to talk to one another? Meaning, are you logging into five different applications to enter the same data over and over or spending a lot of your time exporting and importing data? OR is your software solution end-to-end, and simple enough for not only you, but your entire company to use? These are important questions to think about before signing up for any type of software solution/mobile app.
Quick Tip- Refer to your list in step 1. Identify the top three most important areas to work on (ie what you need today). Is it implementing or updating a CRM? Time Keeping component, etc.?
Step 3. Make a plan and set a budget.
Any solution you select will demand time and effective management in order to be successfully implemented. The best way to go about this is making a simple plan and setting a realistic budget. Of course cost depends on a variety of factors. For instance- Size of company, type of solution/s, level of customization, in-house IT support, training, and add-ons. Luckily, cloud-based software makes it much more affordable today than it was 5 years ago. You pay a monthly fee, typically less when you sign up for a full year.
Quick Tip- Don’t look at market pricing for these systems yet. See what you can realistically afford. If you have a business plan, be sure to update accordingly. The plan piece isn’t some elaborate document either (although if you have time for that, great!). Remember, a good solution has the capability of not only helping you grow your business, but also has the capability of growing with you (meaning with features/storage/security/etc). The plan is more of how you are going to go about tackling that list in Step 1. Think long term and strategically about how you can overcome some of those issues today and tomorrow. That said, this should be an investment in your business. If you’re going to invest, do it right!
Step 4. Reducing your options.
When looking for a cloud-based software solution, many business owners tend to focus solely on price or get lost in the sexiness of it all; not paying much attention to the specific features and functionality that best fit their company. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve tried to make the general CRM’s, Project Management systems, and costing apps work, but quickly find how difficult and expensive customization can be.
Quickbooks dominates the small business accounting software sector and I’ve found the majority of painting contractors already use it. It’s a good idea to make sure whatever cloud-based solution you’re looking at integrates with Quickbooks (or whatever accounting system you’re currently using). No need to mess with your money just yet… save that until you absolutely need to.
Quick Tip- Now you know the main functions you want to focus on and have a plan, it’s time to narrow it down. Google will give you a million options if you were to ask “Best small business CRM” (although I suggest you try googling whatever it is you’re looking for…it just might point you in the right direction). More importantly, ask your colleagues what they are using. Your peers are a wealth of knowledge.
Step 5. Demo. Demo. Demo.
Today, most cloud-based software-as-a-service companies offer a free monthly trial. If they don’t, they’re probably a scam. Once you start to narrow down your options and you like what you see, do the free trial.
Quick Tip- Be sure to look at the level of technical support. During your free trial, ask questions. Lots of them! Before committing your time and money, you will want to know the solution has a good chance of sticking. Be prepared to spend some time in demo phase. Have your office staff and sales people try it, too. Most importantly, the software solution should be making it easier and enjoyable to run your painting company as well as offering a scalable platform for long term growth.
About the author:
John Busick is the CEO of Bob Kunst Painting, Inc, a long-standing family painting company located just outside of San Francisco, CA. The Kunst name has been synonymous in the painting industry since the late 1800’s where John and family have been at the forefront of innovation as manufacturer, contractor, and technology. John is the 5th generation. He is also Co-Founder of Workglue.com, a dedicated to Field Service Management Companies. They are located in the San Francisco, CA. Questions or comments? Feel free to email him firstname.lastname@example.org